For our next Client Spotlight, I took a trip to Fort Washington to visit the office of Starfield & Smith, PC, Attorneys at Law. Upon stepping into the office, I was greeted with warmth and professionalism, which has fostered the long and strong partnership between PrintWorks and their firm. We have had the honor of working closely with the firm since their inception. Marty designed the iconic logo, and we’ve handled all printing materials from smaller giveaways to phone wallets and letterhead.
I sat down with Ethan Smith, the managing partner at Starfield & Smith. Two years ago, he moved into that role, when his partner, David Starfield, stepped back, though Starfield remains actively involved. The pair have worked together for 20 years, building the company into one of the leading firms in the country specializing in SBA (Small Business Association) loan compliance.
The Starfield & Smith Business Model
I asked Ethan how Starfield & Smith help their clients, and he presented me with an image of business as the three legs of a stool. Each leg representing the following benefits of expertise, service, and price.
So how exactly do the three areas benefit their clients?
Regarding expertise, Starfield & Smith is the only firm in the country built to exclusively assist people with the entire SBA loan process. They have the most knowledge regarding SBA compliance and regulatory issues in the industry, and the largest number of attorneys focused on SBA of any firm in the industry. I learned as part of my research that if the firm were a bank, in some years, based on the amount of loans they help close, they would be the third largest SBA Lender in the United States.
In terms of their service, Ethan reported they focus on improvement. The firm has always prided themselves on their customer engagement, making sure to respond to a client’s inquiry within 24 hours. Following any loan closure, they survey everyone involved, evaluate the feedback, and make any adjustments necessary to improve the overall experience.
Lastly, concerning price, Starfield & Smith has operated on the question of “what value is the client receiving for their money?” As a group, the leadership team reviews transactions to ensure clients are receiving all the support required to close a compliant SBA loan. That dedication has given them a competitive edge in the market, providing great value to the lenders and clients alike. Ethan and his team are not simply document jockeys; they diligently work as a team to ensure that all parties come out winners in the process.
Forging New Alliances
While Fort Washington remains their home base, the firm holds another location in Maitland, FL. This office was initially a friendly competitor with similar clients. Over time, a strong professional and personal relationship formed between the two firms and eventually merged as partners in 2011.
The Maitland office is located right outside of Orlando and is run by Victor Diaz and his team. Because Florida is the largest market for SBA lending in the country, one of the company goals is to maintain a strong presence within Florida and leverage the opportunities in that market.
The Humble Beginnings of a “Small Boutique Firm”
So how did this firm select small business lending as its area of expertise? According to Ethan, it started with David’s vision to build a “small boutique firm” that represented the banks who loan to small businesses.
David’s office at the time was located above a mid-Atlantic headquarters for The Money Store, a large SBA lender. When he attended a closing for a client’s SBA loan, his performance attracted the attention of the Money Store’s loan officer. Despite a lack of experience with SBA processes, he was asked to act as their attorney moving forward. As David obtained more clients within the field, he became inspired to build a career as the leading SBA attorney in the nation.
David then interviewed Ethan to join his new practice: “We sat down and talked about law for ten minutes. The other two hours we spent talking about food and music,” Ethan said. The pair found they had much in common, as well as sharing similar outlooks on business and clients. Their introduction led to a strong and lasting partnership.
Looking toward the future, Starfield & Smith are strategically positioning the firm for steady growth, especially in terms of geographic reach. This includes strategic alliances across the Southeast, South, and Midwest. The firm also seek to further grow their creditor’s rights department, maintain what they do well, and improve what they can do better. Most importantly, they seek to remain a strong resource for small businesses everywhere.
What Brings the Starfield & Smith Team Fulfillment?
Next, we talked more about Starfield & Smith’s main vision, or as Ethan likes to intone: “Why do we do this?”
Other areas of law do yield a larger financial gain, but SBA lending may be one of the few areas of law that is ultimately positive.
“Done correctly, this really can be a feel-good area of law,” Ethan stated, “where everyone can win and walk away from the closing table happy.” By working with lenders who work with small business, Starfield & Smith have helped people’s dreams come true, as well as changed their lives. They’re not simply sending money out into the world. To facilitate those loans is to get someone their first job, or allow for a vital promotion, or obtain updated machinery. Simply put, SBA lending brings a sense of fulfillment to the Starfield & Smith team.
Furthermore, that fulfillment reaches to the firm itself. Ethan describes himself as a puzzle solver by nature. Problem solving is a skill and passion that fuels his work in SBA compliance. He finds fulfillment in working with others, interacting with people and learning about them. Such connections are part of what makes our collaborations with Starfield & Smith so professional and personable.
Some Final Thoughts
I asked Ethan if there were any examples of professional fulfillment he was willing to share. He distinctly recalled an ad campaign where we designed keyring magic 8 ball giveaways for an upcoming conference. The goal was to showcase the firm’s dedication in providing answers for clients with SBA questions. In a humorous story, Ethan relayed that the keyrings were discovered the night before the event, by one of its main speakers. At the introductory presentation, the speaker described how, as she was pondering her wardrobe for that morning, she found the keyrings and shook one for help. Ethan and David were elated as she told this story to the entire room.
To close on an inspirational note, I asked Ethan if he had advice he would offer as inspiration to those in business, entering business, or anything in-between. He offered a word: “Persistence.” Starting a small business is especially hard, and if you want to find fulfillment in your work, you need to fight for it. “Never give up; it’s the single most important quality to have,” he said. If you’re truly passionate in your field, the hard times will only serve as important building blocks to your eventual success.
by Tyler James McMaster